Goodreads allows you to set a reading challenge for the year, indicating how many books you would like to read that year. Every year since I joined Goodreads in 2013 I have set myself a reading challenge – usually to read 50 books – and every year I’ve failed to reach my goal. In 2015 I apparently realised 50 books was too ambitious and lowered by goal to 30 books, which I also failed to reach!
In 2017 I again set myself the challenge of reading 50 books and I decided it was now or never – this would be the last year I’d set myself a reading challenge and if I didn’t make it there wouldn’t be any more chances. I also add it to my bucket list of things I want to do before I’m 35.
I started out the year quite well, I was reading one book per week and Goodreads told me I was on track. But then inevitably I started to get behind – especially in the weeks leading up to my wedding. I also had a few longer books that took over a week to read and slowed me down. By the end of November I still had 10 more books to read, so I picked out all the shortest books from my shelves and set to it. By 29 December I had just one book to go – then I realised there was a book I’d read and not logged, so I finished my challenge with room to spare!
I’m pretty chuffed that I finally managed to complete this challenge. But here’s the thing: I won’t be setting myself a reading challenge for 2018.
I love reading. It’s a part of who I am, a limb without which I wouldn’t function properly. As a kid I loved going to the library and borrowing a stack of books, then taking them home and ensconcing myself on my bed. I am still that kid (but with more disposable income and access to Amazon). My husband jokes that I only leave the house so that I can return home to curl up on my chair with a book and a cup of tea. It’s funny ‘cos it’s true.
I love reading but I’m not a quick reader. I admire the people I see on Goodreads achieving reading challenges of 100 books or more. Sarah Moss writes on her blog about reading 10 books per week (which is less than she read before she had children) and Gretchen Rubin posts a picture on her Facebook page every Sunday of the books she’s read that week. Sometimes she only posts one book but usually she posts a stack of at least five books. I actually thought about doing this on my own Facebook page. I decided doing it on a monthly basis would be more realistic, but I gave up on the idea because I mostly read e-books!
I envy these prodigious readers. Their reading speed seems super human to me. But one of my permanent resolutions is to “Be Naomi” and in that spirit I have to accept that I’m just not a fast reader – and to be fair Sarah Moss and Gretchen Rubin get to read as part of their jobs, my work doesn’t leave me with a lot of time for reading!
What’s more, I realised as I was racing to the finish line of my reading challenge that I wasn’t really enjoying the books I was reading. Or rather, I realised that some books should be enjoyed by gobbling them up in one sitting and other books should be enjoyed by savouring them, pausing to enjoy the pleasure of a well crafted sentence or an idea that expands your view of the world, however slightly.
One of the books I read in December was Amsterdam Stories by the Dutch writer Nescio. It’s a beautiful gem of a book full of strange characters, youthful optimism and eternal sunsets. It’s exactly the sort of book I love. It is one of those books you read and feel as though you are looking over the shoulder of the writer as they write it. It was a book speaking my language. But I read it so quickly that I didn’t allow myself the time to properly enjoy it.
In 2018 I want to read more books like Amsterdam Stories (books like J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine, the novels of Thomas Hardy and Dickens, and Walden). I want to read Moby Dick and Don Quixote (and yes, I’d like to read more books by women). I want to spend a whole month enjoying just one book. I want to read one perfect sentence and spend the rest of the day thinking about it.
These days I mostly read non-fiction and I read some great non-fiction this year: Stiff by Mary Roach, The Lonely City by Olivia Laing (I would happily read Olivia Laing’s shopping lists, that’s how much I love her writing), Proof by Adam Rogers and, of course, My Shitty Twenties by Emily Morris (I actually laughed out loud and was close to tears reading this book). But I also increasingly find myself reading a lot of self-help and pop psychology books (I call them candy because they’re so easy to read) and I’d like to step back from reading them, at least in such vast (for me) quantities. I think self-help books can be very valuable – I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin and I think her books and podcast have helped me to understand myself better and be more forgiving towards myself. But too many self-help books and personality quizzes can leave me feeling like I need fixing.
What I need in 2018 is more books that nourish me, warm-bowls-of-soup books, books after my own heart.
N.B. In case you’re interested. This is how many books I read in previous years:
- 2013: 27
- 2014: 34
- 2015: 27
- 2016: 27
I guess 27 books is my yearly reading rate!